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Monday, 22 November 2010

Strategy ≠ Success

I would like to thank the person for inspiring this piece – from an initial meeting discussing the future of Business models. How many times have you sat and listened to someone outline a strategy where you thought for a moment, yes that’s it, this is clearly the future of our business, our country, our industry. A few months later though you hear a repeat of that strategy, and recall yes that was an excellent idea but where did it go? Finally we reach a phase where what was once described as thought leadership and an exciting way forward for the company is merely marketing (sorry to those marketers out there!), the business continues to operate as it did, everyone continues to work on what they were doing and management is left frustrated trying to understand what could possibly have gone wrong. Eventually the management team figures it out, something was wrong with the rest of the organization, clearly we need to start replacing people who do understand us. What actually happens is that businesses end up hiring more managers, more strategists, more thought leaders and continue to remain surprised that things start to go from bad to worse.

Strategic “planning and execution” is possibly one of the hardest tasks to successfully deliver on for any organization, the reason being is because the idea or concept that you may come up with that forms the basis of your strategy is merely the beginning. The largest effort is spent on trying to drive the Strategy into the organization you will need to execute it. When looking to execute Strategy there are three important areas I always look at – Translation, Plan and Execution, I will talk through the reasons why below.

Lost in Translation – if you have ever seen the United Nations at work (I appreciate that could be construed as a contradiction in terms there!) you will have noticed that when the head of the UN makes an important announcement to the country representatives in the room, they all have translators to translate the words of the UN Chief into their own language, this is important not only to the individual countries participating but also the UN Chief so as he can ensure that each member has understood the announcement or initiative he is highlighting. Strategy execution within an organization is no different. In the Management meeting or even the confines of your own office once you believe you have defined your strategy it can be your Hallelujah moment (yes and sometimes you may even here the music!), however there is always the risk that once you open that door to the rest of the business it merely becomes lost as another communication stored right next to that memo about the new coffee machine. When you are defining your strategy you need to consider what is this going to mean for EVERY person impacted in anyway within your business. If your strategy is to become the new leader in defining

The Five P’s – Preparation Prevents Pi.. Poor Performance – I am always amazed that upon making their big fanfare many management teams will sit back waiting for their phenomenal idea to be realized. The present the initiative and ask people to act on it, but have forgotten that with out a well prepared plan a Strategy is merely another idea. Businesses need to think through where that Strategy will bring them to as a organization. What is the outcome we are looking for? What are the key milestones in defining how we actually get there? How will we be honest to ourselves in defining the success or failure of that strategy and will we be prepared to alter that strategy should external influences (market conditions. Competitors, innovation) demand it?

Collaborate Don’t Dictate – In line with the previous point many people will be thinking we actually do set milestones, yet we continue to struggle. Managers are great at understand the broad brush strokes of a strategy but the only people that will understand its impact on the business will be the teams on the ground, the groups of people you will be asking to live and breathe this new strategy going forward. One important area to consider is engaging the impacted groups early, have them involved in considering the execution of the strategy in doing so you are demonstrating that it is no longer just your strategy but also that of the business at all levels and furthermore with the insights of the teams on the ground you can gain important feedback on how to potentially avoid problems with the strategy execution before you stumble upon them, derailing your strategy unnecessarily.

Strategies don’t exist on Highway’s they are built on Country Roads – We all like to think that the execution of our strategy is a four lane highway travelling at a million miles an hour - this is almost never the case. Imagine for a moment a Truck pulling three trailers with a speed of 200km/h; for some reason there is a curve in the highway up ahead … what do you think the chance is of that Truck making the turn with those trailers still attached? Unlikely right, this is similar as to how a strategy is being executed when we ignore changes in the business and the external influences. Therefore I always encourage people to consider the execution of a Strategy is like a Country road, sometimes you will get a breather where the path is straight, with no or minimal disruptions. However it is more likely that we will face numerous curves in the execution of our strategy, it is not our job to predict these but merely to manage them, back off the accelerator, consider what that curve looks like and what action do we need to take to make sure we can navigate it t ensure the business can continue upon the journey which is the execution of the defined strategy.

Am I simplifying this approach? Absolutely, then again this is supposed to be an article and not a novel. This is designed to get you thinking about how we are working within a strategy and to what outcome. We should always remember that a successful strategy is one which is executed upon, embraced by the employees within a business and most importantly one which becomes part of the businesses own being – that is to say a Strategy of any company needs to be buried right into the heart of a business to give it any chance of success.

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